Christmas lights in Bandra


Around this time of the year The Family begins to talk about Bandra. A few years ago we went for a nativity play in St. Peter’s church and were bowled over by the voices of two amateur singers. andrewThis year we did a more mundane thing: a peek into churches, and a walk down Chapel Road. Our first stop was St. Andrew’s church (above), a very open institution. At 7 in the evening people were coming in and out, even though no service was on. A street dog wandered in, and found a comfortable place behind a pew, where it curled up. The special thing about this church is the nook devoted to St. Andrew, a fisherman like the residents of the island at the time of the coming of the Portuguese. The local tradition is to offer bread to the saint, bought from a little booth near a door. Two women ran the booth, and took charge of moving the offerings from the altar to a table by the side. A stern message next to the altar forbade the garlanding of the icon.


Down Hill Road is St. Peter’s church. Nothing much seemed to be visible there. So we moved along to the other end of the road. This part of Hill Road is always lined with vendors. In this season they sell Christmas artefacts:dcosta stars, fairy lights, Santa Claus caps and a variety of tinsel and decorations. Opposite the Elco stand is Boran Road, leading into the Bandra gaothan. This is an old village which has been incorporated into the city. It is now a protected heritage enclave.

A short walk down Boran Road and a sharp right turn took us to the crowded Chapel Road. At this time of the evening it was jammed: a large Volkswagen was trying to negotiate the road, and completely blocking it (above). We squeezed by and found that the road ahead of this knot was fairly empty. D’Costa’s Backery (photo at the left) made a mockery of proper spellings. lightsFurther on we found a hardware store selling fairy lights, where all the sales people were mesmerized by a lady explaining what kind of lights she wanted. At the entrance to a house two girls were selling handmade paper decorations for christmas trees. The Family entered into conversation with them, and probably disappointed them when she left without buying anything.


We walked along. Clodovicus was trying to find the house he rented when he first came to Mumbai. We passed a large barbershop with one lone customer being attended to. I’m always fascinated by barbershops. I peeped into this and found that the large establishment could seat only two. So it was certainly half full at this time of the night. It seemed like a place which I might want to try out one day, so I backed out and took a photo to remind me of it. The name is unusual enough that one can remember it without too much effort.


All of Chapel Road is lit up during christmas. The fairy lights and stars give it a festive look that the stream of traffic cannot subtract too much from. chapelhouseAlong the road are these commemorative crosses. Bollywood movies of the seventies would feature a drunken hero arguing with god at one of these. Now they are barred up within a cage. Is that a sign of less tolerant times or more traffic? In any case, the cage provides a nice parking spot, and parked scooters provide a handy refuge to local cats.


We hit paydirt when we came to the Gonsalves’. A little stall was set in the open doorway, with a display of wonderful East Indian christmas goodies. The creator, Angela, was happy to show everything to The Family: from the guava cheese and baskets (open pastries with coconut candy filling) to the marzipan and cakes. She was reluctant to sell the marzipan, since it was still hot and hadn’t set. The Family pleaded with her, and left with a portion of marzipan and instructions on not to close the packet until it was set. By the time we were back home there was not a lot left to set.

Christmas markets in Cologne


Every German town has a Weihnachtsmarkt, ie, a christmas market. I’ve bought chili-coated almonds in Frankfurt, sipped Gluhwine in Heidelberg, shivered in the cold breeze blowing through the lit up market in Hamburg, and warmed myself with a hot chocolate in Bremen. But the christmas markets in Cologne are special, partly because they attract a huge crowd of tourists, but also partly because Cologne brings the fun atmosphere of its carnival into the market. I was a little surprised to see the market already, but after a little conversation with friends, I realized that they are usually open for five weeks, ending in Christmas. The technical counting is that they open the weekend before the beginning of Advent.


It was a cold day in Cologne when we walked into the beautifully lit market in Neumarkt (photo on top). I’d skipped lunch and was ready to eat something. A stall selling flammkuchen seemed attractive; these are pancakes made from very thin rolled bread dough, topped with onions, specks of pork and cheese, everything warm from the oven. After that we slid through the crowd to the main attraction: gluhwein. This is hot red wine with added spices and sugar, and created to make you feel warm in the cold dark days before Christmas.


Cologne has a series of christmas markets near each other. We crossed the pedestrian zone to one in Heumarkt. This had a skating rink where you could hear a lot of Dutch. This is not surprising, given that Cologne is perhaps two hours from the Netherlands. The crowds tended to lump up near the most popular stalls. We squeezed into a tiny open space near the counter of a bratwurst stall. This has to be the most successful German export: the sausage inside a little bread-roll with mustard and ketchup is known in the English-speaking world as a hot dog. We wolfed ours and then began to flow through the crowd again, fetching up eventually (surprise, surprise) near a gluhwein stall. This was different: the wine was white with an enormous dose of nutmeg.


We exited from this market within view of the Cologne cathedral. At the base of the cathedral was the largest of the markets we had seen till now. A huge christmas tree looked over it, and I did not get a real sense of the scale until we got nearer. The base of the tree spanned a circle of stalls with a concert stage at the centre. The band was tuning up as we approach, and pretty soon launched briskly into their first number. The audience broke up laughing, because it was a song for the carnival which they were playing, not a christmas song. Those came later.


As the evening progressed the crowds grew. The stalls were doing brisk business: everything from crepes to grills to chocolates, coffee and gluhwein. A festive atmosphere enveloped the whole crowd. These are some of the most interesting weekends that you can see in Germany. Families are out together: adults and children alike enjoying the festival. It seems that even the people running the stalls enjoy themselves: many are dressed as if for a preview of the carnival.


It is not only food and drink you can get here: in principle you get a whole range of christmas decorations. One stall sold only the lights which you might want to hang on your christmas tree, others did brisk business selling stars. There were stalls which sold elaborate paper cutouts which you could hang on a tree. There were wonderful stuffed toys and puppets. I could hear so many languages: Tamil, Gujarati, Russian, French, Dutch and English, in addition to German were what I recognized. It seemed that the world had converged on these markets.